Ethical Issues about the Use of Animals for Experiments
Animals have been in use for experimentation for a long time especially in the medical field where it has enabled scientists to discover and gain knowledge and understanding of the biological processes as to improvement the quality of human life. Despite the wide use of animal experimentation in scientific fields, it has become an ethical issue that has pitted the pro-experimentation and against the animal rights activists that have been strongly challenging not only the legality of the continued use of animals for experiments but also the ethics behind it. This paper presents different arguments for and against the use of animals for research purposes.
The population of animals has been dropping drastically worldwide in the recent times. A report by Jarrod in 2010 shows that the chimpanzees' population has dropped from 2 million to just about 150,000 in the recent years. The same applies to the population of rabbits that has dropped from over 3 billion to just about 1.5 million today. The use of an animal for scientific research has been cited as a major reason for the dramatic decline in these animals' population and those of other animals, such as rats, pigs, sharks, and dogs among others. In the US, animals are widely used in scientific research, especially in testing products consumed by humans, as well as the effectiveness of certain drugs.
Want to learn more? Go here:
Animal Testing is Required by the Law
Despite the growing trend in the use of animals for scientific research, there has been a growing debate from different quarters of the American society with one side in support and the other in opposition. Supporters of the use of animals for experiments argue that the use of animals for scientific research is a good thing because it enables the scientists to discover some of the useful information about products and drugs that help in advancing the quality of life of animals and humans. Proponents of experimentation maintain that animals such as chimpanzees, mice and cows have 99.4%, 99% and 90% genes similar to those of humans respectively. As such, using these animals that have the same organs and nerve system is useful in making discoveries on things such as drugs and how effective or dangerous they can be on humans before permitting them for humans. They cite the US laws requiring that all prescription drugs be tested on animals before they can be allowed for sale in the market. This way, any danger with the prescription drug is detected in the animals and avoided for use in the humans because the life of a human is more valuable than that of an animal.
Secondly, proponents of the use of animals for experimentation argue that animals have no rights as human beings. They maintain that unlike humans that have the ability to reason, animals have no right. Therefore, animals cannot make a moral claim or defend themselves in an intelligent manner. Additionally, proponents of the use of animals for experimentation maintain that because animals do not have respect for humans' rights, there is nothing wrong with using them for experimentation purposes.
Experimentation Helps to Discover Medicines for Animals
Thirdly, those in support of the use of animals for experimentation maintain that the use of animals for experimentation has resulted in the discovery of better veterinary medicines and improved welfare of animals. They speak about the heartworm - a drug that was discovered out of research conducted on animals and has since proved useful in helping save the lives of many dogs across the globe. Besides, they cite that animal research has resulted in the better understanding of nutrition for cats and the reasons why cats live much longer than other animals and maintain good health.
Additionally, proponents of the animal research argue that man has dominion over all other creatures. As such, man has control over animals and can do research with them. They cite Genesis chapter 1:28, where after God has created everything and blessed them, God instructed man to be fruitful and multiply, as well as have dominion over all animals of land, air, and sea.
Testing Causes Animals Pain and Suffering
Despite the strong arguments in favor of animal research, animal activists have strongly opposed the continued use of animals for scientific research arguing that it causes a lot of pain and suffering to animals. As such, because the suffering caused to animals is so high, there is no justification for the benefits to humans.
Secondly, animal rights activists have strongly opposed animal experimentation arguing that there has not been any proof of the benefits to human. Jarrod 2010 research, for instance, found that the research conducted on chimpanzees in an attempt to try to discover the medication for HIV did not provide any result despite the claim that chimpanzees share about 99.4% of DNA with humans. Unlike humans, chimpanzees do not develop AIDS after getting infected with HIV. Other opponents of animal research also argue that even other animals that share similar DNA features with humans do not provide reliable test because they might not react in the same way as humans would. As such, it is wrong to continue subjecting animals to pain and suffering in the name of science.
In conclusion, animal use for research is a common practice all over the world. However, this practice is raising ethical issues that need to be addressed soberly. Experiments should not be conducted in the manner that causes a lot of harm and suffering to animals.
A difficult issueIn 1997 Dr Jay Vacanti and his team grew an ear on the back of a mouse
Animal experiments are widely used to develop new medicines and to test the safety of other products.
Many of these experiments cause pain to the animals involved or reduce their quality of life in other ways.
If it is morally wrong to cause animals to suffer then experimenting on animals produces serious moral problems.
Animal experimenters are very aware of this ethical problem and acknowledge that experiments should be made as humane as possible.
They also agree that it's wrong to use animals if alternative testing methods would produce equally valid results.
Two positions on animal experiments
- In favour of animal experiments:
- Experimenting on animals is acceptable if (and only if):
- suffering is minimised in all experiments
- human benefits are gained which could not be obtained by using other methods
- Against animal experiments:
- Experimenting on animals is always unacceptable because:
- it causes suffering to animals
- the benefits to human beings are not proven
- any benefits to human beings that animal testing does provide could be produced in other ways
Harm versus benefit
The case for animal experiments is that they will produce such great benefits for humanity that it is morally acceptable to harm a few animals.
The equivalent case against is that the level of suffering and the number of animals involved are both so high that the benefits to humanity don't provide moral justification.
The three Rs
The three Rs are a set of principles that scientists are encouraged to follow in order to reduce the impact of research on animals.
The three Rs are: Reduction, Refinement, Replacement.
- Reducing the number of animals used in experiments by:
- Improving experimental techniques
- Improving techniques of data analysis
- Sharing information with other researchers
- Refining the experiment or the way the animals are cared for so as to reduce their suffering by:
- Using less invasive techniques
- Better medical care
- Better living conditions
- Replacing experiments on animals with alternative techniques such as:
- Experimenting on cell cultures instead of whole animals
- Using computer models
- Studying human volunteers
- Using epidemiological studies
Are animal experiments useful?
Are animal experiments useful?
Animal experiments only benefit human beings if their results are valid and can be applied to human beings.
Not all scientists are convinced that these tests are valid and useful.
The moral status of the experimenters
Animal rights extremists often portray those who experiment on animals as being so cruel as to have forfeited any own moral standing.
But the argument is about whether the experiments are morally right or wrong. The general moral character of the experimenter is irrelevant.
What is relevant is the ethical approach of the experimenter to each experiment. John P Gluck has suggested that this is often lacking:
Gluck offers this advice for people who may need to experiment on animals:
Animal experiments and animal rights
The issue of animal experiments is straightforward if we accept that animals have rights: if an experiment violates the rights of an animal, then it is morally wrong, because it is wrong to violate rights.
The possible benefits to humanity of performing the experiment are completely irrelevant to the morality of the case, because rights should never be violated (except in obvious cases like self-defence).
And as one philosopher has written, if this means that there are some things that humanity will never be able to learn, so be it.
This bleak result of deciding the morality of experimenting on animals on the basis of rights is probably why people always justify animal experiments on consequentialist grounds; by showing that the benefits to humanity justify the suffering of the animals involved.
Justifying animal experiments
Those in favour of animal experiments say that the good done to human beings outweighs the harm done to animals.
This is a consequentialist argument, because it looks at the consequences of the actions under consideration.
It can't be used to defend all forms of experimentation since there are some forms of suffering that are probably impossible to justify even if the benefits are exceptionally valuable to humanity.
Animal experiments and ethical arithmetic
The consequentialist justification of animal experimentation can be demonstrated by comparing the moral consequences of doing or not doing an experiment.
This process can't be used in a mathematical way to help people decide ethical questions in practice, but it does demonstrate the issues very clearly.
The basic arithmetic
If performing an experiment would cause more harm than not performing it, then it is ethically wrong to perform that experiment.
The harm that will result from not doing the experiment is the result of multiplying three things together:
- the moral value of a human being
- the number of human beings who would have benefited
- the value of the benefit that each human being won't get
The harm that the experiment will cause is the result of multiplying together:
- the moral value of an experimental animal
- the number of animals suffering in the experiment
- the negative value of the harm done to each animal
But it isn't that simple because:
- it's virtually impossible to assign a moral value to a being
- it's virtually impossible to assign a value to the harm done to each individual
- the harm that will be done by the experiment is known beforehand, but the benefit is unknown
- the harm done by the experiment is caused by an action, while the harm resulting from not doing it is caused by an omission
Certain versus potential harm
In the theoretical sum above, the harm the experiment will do to animals is weighed against the harm done to humans by not doing the experiment.
But these are two conceptually different things.
- The harm that will be done to the animals is certain to happen if the experiment is carried out
- The harm done to human beings by not doing the experiment is unknown because no-one knows how likely the experiment is to succeed or what benefits it might produce if it did succeed
So the equation is completely useless as a way of deciding whether it is ethically acceptable to perform an experiment, because until the experiment is carried out, no-one can know the value of the benefit that it produces.
And there's another factor missing from the equation, which is discussed in the next section.
Acts and omissions
The equation doesn't deal with the moral difference between acts and omissions.
Most ethicists think that we have a greater moral responsibility for the things we do than for the things we fail to do; i.e. that it is morally worse to do harm by doing something than to do harm by not doing something.
For example: we think that the person who deliberately drowns a child has done something much more wrong than the person who refuses to wade into a shallow pool to rescue a drowning child.
In the animal experiment context, if the experiment takes place, the experimenter will carry out actions that harm the animals involved.
If the experiment does not take place the experimenter will not do anything. This may cause harm to human beings because they won't benefit from a cure for their disease because the cure won't be developed.
So the acts and omissions argument could lead us to say that
- it is morally worse for the experimenter to harm the animals by experimenting on them
- than it is to (potentially) harm some human beings by not doing an experiment that might find a cure for their disease.
And so if we want to continue with the arithmetic that we started in the section above, we need to put an additional, and different, factor on each side of the equation to deal with the different moral values of acts and omissions.